Zotero was developed primarily to assist in writing academic papers – where the quality of the references is one of the major contributors to “Indications of Esteem”.

For use in genealogy it can take a much more rigorous approach to sources than most of us do in ƒh, both in terms of accurate citations etc. but also in terms of managing our use of sources.

Specific Features

Zotero can be very useful if your research is source driven. So for instance if much of your work is triggered by:

  • New Sources detailed on the “Find My Past Friday” blog
  • Comments on your personal blog
  • Finding and obtaining a new source such as a book
  • Articles in Academic Journals

Zotero can help.

Zotero screen

The above screen shot shows some of the useful features:

  • Left Pane, Top: “My Library” – a collection of Bibliographic references in typical “file manager” format. There is a huge variety of possible entries: books, articles, DVDs, Maps, Podcasts etc.
  • Left Pane, Centre: The list of RSS Feeds – you can configure Zotero to monitor specific genealogical feeds; when you find one where you need to follow up, you can add it to your library.
  • Centre Pane: in this example you can seethe results of a saved search on the Library:
    • Second entry down & Highlighted: An RSS Feed from Find My Past alerting me to new sources – summarised in the Right hand Pane.
    • Bottom two entries: Books – the bibliographic information will appear in the right hand pane. The two books each have attached sub-notes.
    • Top entry: A Comment received by my blog and added to the Library from the RSS Feed.
    • Third Entry down: a plain note (reminding me to do this!).
  • Within entries in the pane there can be sub entries such as sub-notes or snapshots of webpages
  • In the screen shot shown a subset of the Library is being shown based on a saved search for the Phrase “TASK” in notes or subnotes – this is the key to Zotero’s “to-do” functionality
  • Left Pane, Bottom: Tags – to enable you to search by Tag – which could be a genealogical project.

If you then wish to document your research to “academic standards”, there are Zotero add-ins for the major word-processors (MS Office, Libre Office, etc) to help create the citations and bibliography.

If you enter details of all books etc that you acquired into Zotero, it can help you keep track of what you have bought and avoid buying duplicates! By adding a subnote you can record why you bought the book and what research is planned.

If you use the Browser add-ins for Zotero you can highlight an ISBN (say on an Amazon listing), right click and select “Save to Zotero” and the full details of the book are looked up and added to Zotero. Alternatively there is an icon to allow ISBNs to be directly entered into Zotero – which then looks up all the details. There is also an add-on available (from an extensive list) that enables you to use an iPhone to scan a book’s barcode in order to add it to the Zotero Library.

Evelyn Wilcock’s experience of using Zotero

This is based on a FHUG post.

(I use Evernote for anything I need to remember to do. House, garden, clothes etc. Evernote free is now limited for use on only two devices.

In the days when Evernote was free for many devices, there was a detailed blog or lecture from USA on how it could be used for genealogy. I switched to One note and then back again – the actual program doesn’t matter that much. So long as it is cloud based and on my phone.)

For documents in archives I use Zotero. Zotero is a free bibliography program. Bibliography software used to be massively expensive for anyone who did not have university membership and Zotero is the first class solution.

I keep a separate folder in Zotero called Archive list in which I list documents. There are fields for the Archive and the file number. Users sometimes complain that Zotero is not well designed to list archive files. But it works for me.

If I need to read a file I add a note “To read” followed by my own abbreviation for the archive. Zotero has an ultra efficient search across all fields, so I type in “To read Kew” and that produces a list of all the files and file numbers I plan to read at the National Archive and then, if one has a reader’s ticket, one can order them up in advance.

Similarly in my Zotero Bibliography folder, I list books or publications with the name of the Library and the shelf number and I can use a text search to call up anything I have marked to read in the British Library or elsewhere.

Zotero is designed for citing references, so it is easy to copy and paste sources into ƒh.

Zotero can be used to make full notes on books and it will hold long text documents and pdf’s. But I don’t use it that way. Because notes can get buried. Whereas with Zim, one can see the hierarchy of notes.


Zotero is freeware available on Mac, Windows and Linux.

Last update: 01 Apr 2021